There’s really no two ways about it: vegan diarrhea is a real problem. That’s right, the price for leading a moral and ethical existence by co-existing with our animal brethren is raging (albeit temporary) number 2’s. It’s one of the points against veganism, and while it might seem minor, it can be problematic if not corrected early enough.
But don’t worry, it happens to a lot of people: along with hemorrhoids, bloating, and constipation, diarrhea is just one of the possible issues you might have to face when you switch to a completely plant-based diet, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that! Most adults will spend their whole lives eating meat, so it’s only natural that their digestive systems will have a learning curve with their new, healthier, vegan diet.
But first, let’s talk poop: diarrhea, as defined by the World Health Organization (or WHO), defines it as the “passage of three or more liquid stools or loose stools per day”. Yes, it does sound gross, but regularly inspecting your stools is important because it can determine the state of your well-being. Who would have thunk!
Diarrhea happens when your stomach is unable to absorb the nutrients in your stool before it passes your system, and while there are several specific causes that doctors can pinpoint, none of them have a direct link with a plant-based diet. So, what gives (aside from your behind)? Well, researchers believe that vegan diarrhea is caused by a few things that have to deal with your new diet, including:
Vegan Diarrhea Possible Cause 1: Not Enough Protein, Bro
Or rather, you’re not absorbing enough protein: this usually happens when you have an imbalance of fiber in your body. Most of the dietary fiber our body needs comes from vegetables (a crucial component of the vegan diet, obviously), but also, fruits and legumes, as well as whole grains.
Normally, dietary fiber helps our digestive system by giving bulk to our stool, allowing it to stay within our system long enough for our intestines to absorb all the nutrients from within. Diarrhea happens when there’s not enough fiber in our body, which means all the food we digest just shoots right out (literally), including the all-important protein. Many people quitting veganism will often find that they lacked a lot of protein during their plant-based diet stint.
However, vegan diarrhea can sometimes be caused by too much fiber: because fiber is also absorbent, too much of it can induce water retention in our colons, preventing protein absorption and producing moist stools that then come out as diarrhea. Too much fiber can come about when new vegans mistakenly replace their entire diet with just one vegan food.
Raw vegans, that is, vegans who espouse eating only raw foods like fruits, are the most prone to vegan diarrhea, particularly because fruits are very much rich in fiber, but unfortunately, low on protein. Raw vegans do eat a lot of nuts and legumes, but unfortunately, this might not be enough to stave off watery poop.
Get enough protein, bro. The regular adult person’s RDA (or, Recommended Dietary Allowance) is 0.8 grams of protein per kilo of body weight per day. Contrary to popular belief, many vegan food products are rich in protein, such as tofu, chickpea, tempeh, lentils, and kale. If you’ve been bingeing on mangoes for the past few days and noticed that your stool has been extra runny, get some nuts and soy in you.
Vegan Diarrhea Possible Cause 2: Get Your Supplements in Order
People who switch to a vegan diet will (correctly) assume that they might not get enough vitamins and minerals when they first start. This is technically the right thing to do, but the problem comes when people supplement the wrong vitamins that they’re body needs: after all, too much of a good thing can be bad, too.
Multivitamins, despite their marketing, can actually contain too many vitamins, which can lead to a whole host of problems, not the least of which is vegan diarrhea. Vitamin C and Zinc, when taken in excess, can cause diarrhea, nausea, and stomach cramps. Meanwhile, too much Selenium (a common component in vitamin supplements) can cause GI issues (including diarrhea), hair loss, and in extreme cases, nerve damage.
Regulate your supplements. When starting a vegan diet, always make sure that you’re still getting a well-rounded meal. Mix up your meals with different types of vegetables and fruits, and make sure to get enough whole grains and nuts. In this way, you’ll be able to get as many vitamins in you as possible without needing multivitamins or supplements. If you feel like you just have to take them, consult with a doctor first. If you’re already taking them and vegan diarrhea kicks in, stop.
Vegan Diarrhea Possible Cause 3: Slow Down the Pace
In general, physical activity and exercise are good for you; actually, scratch that, physical activity and exercise are great for you, and is an essential part of any diet, vegan or otherwise. However, too much exercise can, believe it or not, induce diarrhea, particularly for runners and cross-trainers. Yes, the human body is weird.
Also called the “runs”, runner’s diarrhea often happens after a long-distance run, and while the exact mechanism that causes runner’s diarrhea is unclear, it happens often enough and consistently enough that it can be pinpointed as a cause for GI problems.
One theory, though, is that the constant physical activity, specifically running, moves the intestines in such a way that it encourages pooping. Too much of it over a long period of time? Well, that’s just a recipe for a watery stool discharge.
Slow down and smell the roses.
Again, the exact causes of runner’s diarrhea are unclear, but it does coincide with a vegan diet enough times that it can be assumed that two are very much related. When switching to a vegan diet, of course, you should exercise, but just take it down a notch while your body readjusts.